Evolv’s AI gun scanner is gaining popularity

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When Peter George saw the news of the racially motivated mass shooting at the Tops Supermarket in Buffalo on May 14, he thought he had often had after such tragedies.

“Could our system have stopped him?” He said. “I don’t know. But I think we could democratize security so that someone who is planning on harming people can’t easily end up in an unsuspecting place.”

George is CEO of Evolv Technology, an artificial intelligence-based system designed to mark weapons, “democratizing security” so that weapons can be kept out of public places without elaborate checkpoints.

With the rise of gun violence in the United States like that seen in Buffalo and now Uvalde, Texas, firearms sales hit record highs in 2020 and 2021 as the gun violence archive reports at least 198 shootings of mass since January – Evolv has become increasingly popular, used at schools, stadiums, shops and other venues.

Its growing use in schools was highlighted on Tuesday with the shooting at Robb Elementary School, which claimed the lives of at least 21 people, including 19 children.

For its supporters, the system is a more effective and less intrusive alternative to the old metal detector, making events safer and more enjoyable to attend. For its critics, however, Evolv’s effectiveness has barely been proven. And it opens up a Pandora’s box of ethical issues where convenience is paid for with RoboCop surveillance.

“The idea of ​​a kinder, kinder metal detector is in theory a good solution to these terrible gunfights,” said Jay Stanley, senior political analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union project on speech, privacy and technology. “But do we really want to create more ways for security to invade our privacy? Do we want to turn every mall or Little League game into an airport? “

Evolv machines use “active sensing”, a light emitting technique that also argues radar and lidar – to create images. Then apply the AI ​​to examine them. Data scientists from the Waltham, Massachusetts company created “signatures” (basically, visual designs) and trained the AI ​​to compare them to scanner images.

Executives say the result is an intelligent system that can “detect” a weapon without anyone having to stop and empty their pockets into a beeper. When the system identifies a suspicious object from a group of people passing through it, it draws an orange box around it on a live video feed of the person entering. It is only then that a security guard, looking on a nearby tablet, will approach for further checks.

Dan Donovan, a seasoned security consultant who rents Evolv’s systems to customers for events, says allowing guards to focus on fewer threats avoids the fatigue metal detector operators can experience. Like other consultants, he notes that no system would likely stop the Buffalo killer, who started shooting in the parking lot.

Consumers can expect to see Evolv a lot more. Sports franchises like Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers now use it; so do the New York Mets and the Columbus Crew. The Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium in February placed him on an outside perimeter. In New York City, public art institutions like Lincoln Center are trying. So it is a municipal hospital. (NYC Mayor Eric Adams touted it as a potential subway safety measure, but the small spaces and underground signal interference make it less plausible. Airports, with stricter standards, are also unlikely.)

North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system, with 150,000 students, also licensed Evolv. Theme parks are raving about it too – all 27 Six Flags parks across the country now use it. Evolv has now conducted 250 million scans, he says, up from 100 million in September.

George believes that the precision and lack of friction make Evolv compelling. “Nobody wants a prison or an airport wherever they go, which is what you have with a stupid analog metal detector,” he said. “And the cost of doing nothing increases day by day.”

The company, which went public last year, raised at least $ 400 million, with Jeb Bush, Bill Gates, Peyton Manning and Andre Agassi among the investors. (Space is growing, with a system from Italian rival CEIA gaining popularity.) Relying mainly on the four-year subscriptions it sells, Evolv more than doubled its revenue in the first quarter to $ 8.7 million compared to 2021, although it also more than doubled its losses, to $ 18.2 million.

Retail stores are an interesting use case, George said, because people want to feel safe shopping but don’t want to be stopped and checked every time they walk in to shop. (About 60 people can be scanned every minute, Evolv says.) George said when the system was installed in a mall in the Atlanta area, Lenox Square, in January, he captured 57 guns in the first four hours.

Overall, George said, at least 15,000 guns were reported by Evolv in the first quarter of 2022. (These numbers are not publicly checked.)

But IPVM, a security industry trade publication, concluded after a review that Evolv has “fundamental technological limitations in differentiating benign objects from real weapons”. One problem, IPVM said, citing its review of the company, is that some metal objects confuse the AI, including most notably Google’s sturdy-designed Chromebook.

IPVM claims that Evolv did not provide enough data. The publication also states that the company will not engage with it due to its demands; says the company even asked her to stop reporting on Evolv in the name of public safety.

In a statement to the Washington Post about the conflict, Evolv said, “We believe publishing a blueprint of any security screening technology is irresponsible and makes the public less secure by providing unnecessary information to those who might try to use the information to cause damage. “

Alan Cowen, a former Google scientist and artificial intelligence expert, says he would also worry about “contradictory examples”, where bad actors learn how to get around AI, for example by putting duct tape around the handle of a gun. as well as a delay in understanding it because Evolv will not report it.

Some techno-ethicists argue that accuracy is just a fear.

“If it can reduce the false positives while detecting the true positives, it seems like an advantage,” said Jamais Cascio, author and founder of Open the Future, an organization that examines the consequences of technology. “My concern is what happens when it goes beyond searching for weapons at a concert: when someone decides to add all kinds of input on the person being scanned, or if we get into a protest and a government agency can now use the system. to track and log us. We know what a metal detector can and cannot tell us. We have no idea how this can be used. “

George states that no data is applied to a scanned subject and no information captured or cataloged. As for accuracy, he acknowledges the Chromebook was a problem, but says the algorithm is being improved. He suggests that students may simply realize they have to keep them on their way to school, a small price to pay. “Why shouldn’t there be a system where children can learn safely and even enter without interrupting the step?” he asked him.

Whether this will be possible in large districts such as Charlotte-Mecklenburg remains to be seen. Requests for comment from the police department overseeing the security of the district were not returned.

Several Evolv The Post customers have spoken to say they are happy with the system.

“We’ve gone from 30 lines of four-lane metal detectors and we’re not stopping people for every cell phone or house key,” said Jason Freeman, Six Flags vice president of safety, security, health and the environment. He said overall outages went from 32% to 15%, with the vast majority not yet considering the threats. The idea is not just to capture more weapons; it’s wasting less time on everything else.

Mark Heiser, headquarters director of the Denver Performing Arts Complex, says the system is light years ahead of the metal detector. “We would never go back,” he said.

Heiser cited fewer alarms for items like pen knives – “which is good, because it allows us to focus. [the more destructive weapons]. ” And, she noted, many members of the public feel freer to enter.

But Stanley of the ACLU remains unconvinced.

“The fact that the devices are thinner is a good thing. But they can also be more insidious or even just annoying, “she said.” You’ll have many people shocked that an umbrella hidden in their coat pocket is suddenly leading to a meeting with a security guard. “

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